A friend sent this to me when I was sick with cancer. I loved it, and if I’m ever feeling discouraged with my life, I pull it out and read it. It’s not just for moms, but for anyone who’s ever been a mentor or teacher.
It started to happen gradually. One day I was walking my son Jake to
school. I was holding his hand and we were about to cross the street when
the crossing guard said to him, “Who is that with you, young fella?”
“Nobody,” he shrugged.
Nobody? The crossing guard and I laughed. My son is only 5, but as we
crossed the street I thought,”Oh my goodness, nobody?”
I would walk into a room and no one would notice. I would say something to
my family – like “Turn the TV down, please” – and nothing would happen.
Nobody would get up, or even make a move for the remote. I would stand there
for a minute, and then I would say again, a little louder, “Would someone
turn the TV down?” Nothing
Just the other night my husband and I were out at a party. We’d been there
for a bout three hours and I was ready to leave. I noticed he was talking to
a friend from work. So I walked over, and when there was a break in the
conversation, I whispered, “I’m ready to go when you are.” He just kept
right on talking.
It all began to make sense, the blank stares, the lack of response, the way
one of the kids will walk into the room while I’m on the phone and ask to be
taken to the store. Inside I’m thinking, “Can’t you see I’m on the phone?”
Obviously not. No one can see if I’m on the phone, or cooking, or sweeping
the floor, or even standing on my head in the corner, because no one can see
me at all.
Some days I am only a pair of hands, nothing more. Can you fix this? Can you
tie this? Can you open this?
Some days I’m not a pair of hands; I’m not even a human being. I’m a clock
to ask, “What time is it?” I’m a satellite guide to answer, “What number is
t he Disney Channel?” I’m a car to order, “Right around 5:30, please.”
I was certain that these were the hands that once held books and the eyes
that studied history and the mind that graduated summa cum laude – but now
they had disappeared into the peanut butter, never to be seen again.
She’s going? She’s going? She’s gone!
One night, a group of us were having dinner, celebrating the return of a
friend from England . Janice had just gotten back from a fabulous trip, and
she was going on and on about the hotel she stayed in. I was sitting there,
looking around at the others all put together so well. It was hard not to
compare and feel sorry for myself as I looked down at my out-of-style dress;
it was the only thing I could find that was clean. My unwashed hair was
pulled up in a banana clip and I was afraid I could actually smell peanut
butter in it. I was feeling pretty pathetic, when Janice turned to me with a
beautifu lly wrapped package, and said, “I brought you this.”
It was a book on the great cathedrals of Europe . I wasn’t exactly sure why
she’d given it to me until I read her inscription: “To Charlotte , with
admiration for the greatness of what you are building when no one sees.”
In the days ahead I would read – no, devour – the book. And I would discover
what would become for me, four life-changing truths, after which I could
pattern my work.
No one can say who built the great cathedrals – we have no record of their
These builders gave their whole lives for a work they would never see
They made great sacrifices and expected no credit.
The passion of their building was fueled by their faith that the eyes of God
A legendary story in the book told of a rich man who came to visit the
cathedral while it was being built, and he saw a workman carving a tiny bird
on the inside of a beam. He was puzzled and asked the man, “Why are you
spending so much time carving that bird into a beam that will be covered by
the roof? No one will ever see it.” And the workman replied, “Because God
I closed the book, feeling the missing piece fall into place. It was almost
as if I heard God whispering to me, “I see you, Charlotte. I see the
sacrifices you make every day, even when no one around you does. No act of
kindness you’ve done, no sequin you’ve sewn on, no cupcake you’ve baked, is
too small for me to notice and smile over. You are building a great
cathedral, but you can’t see right now what it will become.”
At times, my invisibility feels like an affliction. But it is not a disease
that is erasing my life. It is the cure for the disease of my own
self-centeredness. It is the antidote to my strong, stubborn pride.
I keep the right perspective when I see myself as a great builder. As one of
the people who show up at a job that they will never see finished, to work
on something that their name will never be on. The writer of the book went
so far as to say that no cathedrals could ever be built in our lifetime
because there are so few people willing to sacrifice to that degree.
When I really think about it, I don’t want my son to tell the friend he’s
bringing home from college for Thanksgiving, “My mom gets up at 4 in the
morning and bakes homemade pies, and then she hand bastes a turkey for three
hours and presses all the linens for the table.” That would mean I’d built
a shrine or a monument to myself. I just want him to want to come home. And
then, if there is anything more to say to his friend, to add, “You’re gonna
love it there.”
As mothers, we are building great cathedrals. We cannot be seen if we’re
doing it right. And one day, it is very possible that the world will marvel,
not only at what we have bui lt, but at the beauty that has been added to the
world by the sacrifices of invisible women.